Painted Canvas Wall Hanging
One of three large sections of painted canvas covering the walls in Queen Margaret’s Room, probably English, c. 1870-1900. The design is composed of trees and foliage interspersed with birds and in the foreground flowering plants. This section runs from the right hand side of the window in the south wall to the left hand side of the window in the west wall. On the west wall there is a bird perched in a tree with its wings outstretched, and a distant city in the landscape beside the west window.
These hangings were probably painted in the late nineteenth century, in a style that refers consciously to late seventeenth-century verdure tapestries and painted cloths. The room at Packwood contains a wide variety of different birds, most of which are purely decorative and have no narrative content. The exception is the group of a fox looking up at a crow on a strip to the right of the bed, which almost certainly represents the fable of the Fox and the Crow, told by Aesop and later writers including Jean de La Fontaine. A crow sat in a tree with a piece of cheese in his beak, whereupon a fox, attracted by the cheese, went to speak to him. The fox told the crow what a handsome bird he was, and said that if his song was as beautiful as his plumage he would be the Phoenix of the forest. Encouraged by the fox’s praise the crow opened his mouth to sing, dropping the piece of cheese which the fox immediately snatched, with the words – “every flatterer lives at the expense of those who listen to him”. The strip next to this, although not originally joined to it, may represent the fable of The Toad told by Hans Christian Andersen amongst others, in which an ambitious toad eager to see the world ventures too far afield and is eaten by a stork. Painted canvas wall hangings were once a common feature of homes throughout Britain and Europe. They appear in the domestic inventories of prominent noblemen and clergy in England from the fourteenth century, and by the mid sixteenth century they were widespread in the more lowly homes of merchants and yeomen (Mander 1997; Mander 2003). Painted cloths enjoyed their greatest popularity in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. During the eighteenth century changing tastes in interior decoration meant that painted cloths, like tapestries, were often discarded in favour of new forms of wall covering such as printed cotton or wallpaper, and large numbers must have been destroyed during this period. This combined with the inherently fragile nature of the medium means that very few survive today, and painted cloths are not widely appreciated or understood. The local historian Oliver Baker, whom Baron Ash knew, noted in 1937 that the Warwickshire/Worcestershire area of the Midlands had been particularly rich in painted cloths during their heyday in the late sixteenth century (Baker 1937, p. 121). The hangings at Packwood were bought by Baron Ash as part of his effort to recreate the atmosphere of an old English manor house, and the association of painted cloths with the Shakespearian period would have appealed to his interest in local history. However the hangings themselves belong to a period of late nineteenth century revivalism. Gothic revival designers in both France and Britain began to advocate the use of painted cloths in interior decoration, most notably Julien Godon, who wrote a book on the subject in 1879. Interest in the medium also grew in England. Godon’s book was translated into English by Benjamin Bucknall, and the technique saw a brief flowering with the ‘tempera revival’ at the Birmingham School of Arts (Crawford 1984; Mander 2003). The hangings at Packwood date from this period, and it is tempting to speculate that they were painted in the Birmingham area, especially since Baron Ash bought much of the contents of Packwood from dealers (including Oliver Baker) and country house sales nearby. (Helen Wyld, 2009)
Given to the National Trust by Graham Baron Ash in 1941
Packwood House, The Graham Baron Ash Collection (The National Trust)
Makers and roles
probably English, artist
Garnier 2003 Nicole Garnier, ‘Deux toiles peintes de la fabrique de Chantilly, XVIIIe s., identifiées’, Musée Condé, no. 60 (Dec. 2003), pp. 36-42 Mander 2003 Nicholas Mander, ‘A moveable feast of painted cloths’, Country Life, vol. 197, no. 38 (18 Sept. 2003), pp. 132-136 Favre-Communal 1999 Monique Favre-Communal, ‘La Passion du Musée de Reims: etude technique et iconographique de toiles peintes du XVe siècle’, Mélanges de l’École française de Rome. Moyen Age, vol. 111, no. 1 (1999), pp. 357-371 Mander 1997 Nicholas Mander, ‘Painted cloths: history, craftsmanship and techniques’, Textile History, vol. 28, no. 2 (Autumn 1997), pp. 119-148 Wells-Cole 1997 Anthony Wells-Cole, Art and Decoration in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: the influence of continental prints, 1558-1625, New Haven & London 1997 Crawford 1984 Alan Crawford (ed.), By Hammer and Hand: the Arts and Crafts Movement in Birmingham, exh. cat. Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery 1984 Matley Moore 1982 Elsie Matley Moore, ‘Painted Cloths’, Transactions of the Worcester Archaeological Society, 3rd series, vol. 8 (1982) Foister 1981 Susan Foister, ‘Paintings and other Works of Art in Sixteenth-Century English Inventories’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 123, no. 938 (May 1981), pp. 273-282 Fernley 1979 Pauline Fernley, ‘Painted cloths in a Herefordshire house’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, XIII (1979), pp. 288-290 Matley Moore 1944 Elsie Matley Moore, ‘The painted cloths of Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire’, Country Life, (25 Aug. 1944) Baker, Oliver, In Shakespeare's Warwickshire and the unknown years /, 1937 Depitre 1912 E. Depitre. La toile peinte en France au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle. Industrie. Commerce. Prohibitions. Paris, M. Rivière et Cie, 1912 Sartor 1912 Margeurite Sartor, Les tapisseries, toiles peintes et broderies de Reims, Paris 1912 Bucknall, 1879: Benjamin Bucknall, Painted tapestry and its application to interior decoration, London 1879 Godon 1879 Julien Godon, La peinture sur toile et tissus divers imitant les tapisseries et son application à la décoration intérieure, Paris 1879